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EPA Region 7 and 4 States—Water Quality Standards Review Process

Kaizen Event Case Study


The submittal, review and approval process of the EPA–State process for developing and revising Water Quality Standards (WQS) was the focus of a Lean business process improvement kaizen event in June 2007. The participants included EPA Headquarters, EPA Region 7, and the state programs in EPA Region 7 (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska). Water quality standards define allowable uses for water bodies and identify specific water quality criteria to achieve those uses within state or tribal lands. The water quality standards developed by a State must be approved by EPA prior to going into effect. EPA regional offices, in this case Region 7, assist States and Tribes in the development of water quality standards programs that meet the Clean Water Act’s goals of restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters.

The objective of the week-long event was to improve communication and understanding between States, EPA Region 7 and EPA Headquarters on the process to develop and revise water quality standards. Prior to the kaizen event, the water quality standards submittal, review and approval process was time-consuming, unpredictable, and frustrating for all parties. The event resulted in a redesigned process.

  • 51% reduction in number of steps in EPA’s approval process (from 53 to 26), yielding significant time savings for all agencies.
  • Clearer understanding among EPA Headquarters, the Region, and the States, of each other’s processes.
  • Identified strategic points, early in the process, where EPA involvement in state water quality standards rulemaking processes is most effective.

Participating Agencies

Participants in the kaizen event included:

  • EPA Region 7’s Office of Regional Counsel and Water Quality Standards Program
  • EPA Headquarters (Office of Science and Technology, and Office of General Counsel)
  • Iowa Department of Natural Resources Water Quality Bureau
  • Kansas Department of Health & the Environment Bureau of Water
  • Missouri Department of Natural Resources Water Pollution Control Program
  • Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality Water Quality Division

Method Implemented: Kaizen event (5-day event)
Year Conducted: 2007
Consultant Support: TBM Consulting Group

Scope of the Lean Project

Project Scope

This event examined the EPA–State WQS submittal, review and approval process, from the time the States recognize that the standards need to be updated until EPA has approved the new standards.


The goals and objectives of the lean event were to design a process to develop water quality standards for Region 7 States that would:

  • Establish and improve the partnership and trust between EPA and the Region 7 States.
  • Determine when and how to communicate with stakeholders and the public to facilitate the process and understand the impact on the public.
  • Clarify and improve the water quality standards process and everyone’s roles for working together.
  • Achieve 100% technically and legally defensible approvals on time.
  • Engage EPA early in the state water quality standards development process, prior to stakeholder involvement and the public review process.
  • Enable states to address new EPA water quality standards recommendations within two triennial reviews.
  • Enable states to stay current with their triennial reviews.

Process Changes and Results

During the event, participants designed a new process for submitting, reviewing, and approving water quality standards. Key process changes are identified below.

  • Development of an understanding of each agency’s processes and an appreciation for the motivation and restrictions of these processes.
  • Identification of strategic points where EPA’s involvement in the States’ water quality standards rulemaking process is most critical and effective.
  • Coordination of State and EPA efforts as soon as a State starts to consider new water quality standards or changes to existing standards in order to streamline the submittal, review, and approval process.

Figure 1: Current State Map

Figure 1: Current State Map

Figure 2: Post-Kaizen Process Map

Figure 2: Post-Kaizen Process Map

Figure 3: New Water Quality Standards Process (Part 1) (Click to enlarge in new window.)

Figure 3: New Water Quality Standards Process (Part 1)

Figure 3: New Water Quality Standards Process (Part 2) (Click to enlarge in new window.)

Figure 3: New Water Quality Standards Process (Part 2)

The event yielded the following results:

  • 48% reduction in process steps (from 50 to 26), cutting the length of the process from a few years to several months.
  • 18% reduction of handoffs (from 17 to 14).
  • 100% reduction in the number of loop-backs in the process (from 2 to 0).
  • Increased collaboration between EPA and States to improve strategic planning.
  • On time completion and approval of Iowa DNR’s chemical criteria package.


Since the event, EPA Region 7 and States have implemented the following changes:

  • State and EPA Region 7 staff members have been trained in the new process.
  • States and Region 7 hold scoping meetings to discuss water quality standards science and feasible approaches.
  • The kaizen event process narrative, process map, and associated documents were posted on the EPA Region 7 website.
  • The process roles and expectations for States and EPA are clearer and the workload is spread out instead of concentrated at the end.

Since the kaizen event, the four Region 7 States and EPA Region 7 have worked together early in the WQS process to agree on deadlines. Early editions of water quality standards packages are provided to EPA by the States to ensure that the subsequent formal submissions will be reviewed and approved in a timely manner and expectations for agencies are clear. Participants have held 30, 60, and 90-day follow-up calls after the event. A follow-up meeting took place in October 2008 to discuss progress and identify opportunities for further improvement.

For More Information

Contact Person:
John Delashmit
Chief, Water Quality Management Branch
Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division
EPA Region 7

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